Cesare Pavese

(1908—1950) Italian novelist, poet, and translator

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Italian novelist, poet, and critic. The elegance and clarity of his prose goes far beyond simple realism; the quietly disturbing imagery of deserted roads and towns and of emptiness in nature has had not only a literary influence but has been felt by artists in other media, as for example in the films of Antonioni.

Born in the Piedmont village of Santo Stefano Belbo, Pavese studied English and American literature at the University of Turin. After graduating he published one volume of verse, a novel, and a shorter book of fiction and made a number of important translations from English of works by Defoe, Melville, Dickens, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and William Faulkner. After writing an antifascist article in the review La Cultura, which was printed by the influential publisher Einaudi, Pavese was imprisoned for a time. On being released, he became a director of Einaudi in Rome. He spent two years (1943–45) in a Piedmont village when the area was a centre of partisan activity against the Germans, and in 1945 returned to Turin as editorial director of Einaudi. He was briefly a member of the Communist Party and a contributor to its newspaper, L'Unità. He committed suicide on 27 August 1950, an act that, as was revealed in his posthumous diary Il mestiere di vivere (1952; translated as The Burning Brand, 1961), he had seriously considered since the 1930s. In the last few years of his life he wrote five novels, several novellas, and a number of short stories. He was awarded the Strega Prize for literature shortly before his death.

Pavese's work is much concerned with isolation and the failure of relationships and communication. Paesi tuoi (1941; translated as The Harvesters, 1961) and Il carcere (1949; translated as The Political Prisoner, 1955) both dramatize the breakdown of relationships through the experience or fear of violence, a theme also explored in Dialoghi con Leucò (1947; translated as Dialogues with Leucò, 1965). This alienation is not merely one of individual tragic lives but is finally seen as part of a general human predicament, as in La luna e i falò (1950; translated as The Moon and the Bonfires, 1953), perhaps his best novel. Other works are Il diavolo sulle colline (1948; translated as The Devil in the Hills, 1954) and a posthumous book of poems, Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi (1951; ‘Death Will Come and its Eyes Will be Yours’).

Subjects: Literature.

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